Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


narcissism-illo

(ILLUSTRATION: LORELYN MEDINA/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Narcissism Breeds Belief in One’s Own Creativity

• October 07, 2013 • 4:00 AM

(ILLUSTRATION: LORELYN MEDINA/SHUTTERSTOCK)

British researchers report narcissists are more likely than most to engage in creative activities.

Have you ever taken a drawing seminar or a creative writing class, looked around at your fellow students and thought, “There sure are a lot of narcissists in here”?

Recently published research suggests you were quite possibly right.

A new British study finds people with narcissistic tendencies are more likely than others to think of themselves as creative, and to engage in creative activities. If your opinion of yourself is unusually high, there’s a good chance you long to share your brilliance with the rest of the world.

There’s no evidence at this point that narcissists are more creative than the rest of us. But there is evidence that they think they are, and that that belief drives them to try their hand at various creative pursuits.

In the journal Thinking Skills and Creativity, a research team led by psychologist Adrian Furnham of University College London describes an experiment featuring 207 people The participants, a mix of undergraduates and college graduates, took a series of tests to measure the “big five” personality factors: neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

In addition, they provided a self-assessment of their creativity (answering questions like “how innovative do you consider yourself?”), and indicated how many creative activities (out of a list of 34) they had engaged in during the past year. Those activities including “composed a poem” and “choreographed a dance.”

Finally, they completed a condensed version of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. Their answers were grouped into two categories, representing two different types of narcissism.

“Narcissism others” was calculated by measuring their response to statements such as “People always recognize my authority” and “I really like to be the center of attention.” “Narcissism self” was based on their reaction to such self-aggrandizing statements as “I am more capable than other people.”

When the scores were added up, “Narcissism self” was the variable that most strongly predicted not only self-assessed creativity (no surprise there), but also engagement in creative activities. “Narcissism others” was also correlated with both measures of creativity, as were the personality traits of openness and extraversion.

It is important to note that this study did not measure whether narcissism is related to actual creativity, as measured by an objective outsider. Participants did not perform one of the standard tests to gauge creative thinking.

A 2010 Stanford University study, in which students came up with, and pitched, concepts that could form the basis of a movie, found the narcissists’ ideas were, on average, no better than anyone else’s. However, their in-person pitches were more persuasive, presumably because they believed in themselves so strongly. (It also found the presence of two narcissists in a collection of people boosted innovation, apparently because the competition between them set off creative sparks within the group.)

There’s no evidence at this point that narcissists are more creative than the rest of us. But there is evidence that they think they are, and that that belief drives them to try their hand at various creative pursuits.

So, yes, that guy at the easel next to yours may indeed believe he’s the next Picasso. But the proof will be in the painting.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 24 • 4:00 PM

We Need to Normalize Drug Use in Our Society

After the disastrous misconceptions of the 20th century, we’re returning to the idea that drugs are an ordinary part of life experience and no more cause addiction than do other behaviors. This is rational and welcome.


October 24 • 2:00 PM

A Letter to the Next Attorney General: Fix Presidential Pardons

More than two years ago, a series showed that white applicants were far more likely to receive clemency than comparable applicants who were black. Since then, the government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a study, but the pardons system remains unchanged.


October 24 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Middle School Math Teacher?

Noah Davis talks to Vern Williams about what makes middle school—yes, middle school—so great.


October 24 • 10:00 AM

Why DNA Is One of Humanity’s Greatest Inventions

How we’ve co-opted our genetic material to change our world.


October 24 • 8:00 AM

What Do Clowns Think of Clowns?

Three major players weigh in on the current state of the clown.


October 24 • 7:13 AM

There Is No Surge in Illegal Immigration

The overall rate of illegal immigration has actually decreased significantly in the last 10 years. The time is ripe for immigration reform.


October 24 • 6:15 AM

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.


October 24 • 5:00 AM

Why We Gossip: It’s Really All About Ourselves

New research from the Netherlands finds stories we hear about others help us determine how we’re doing.


October 24 • 2:00 AM

Congratulations, Your City Is Dying!

Don’t take population numbers at face value.


October 23 • 4:00 PM

Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies somewhere in between.


October 23 • 2:00 PM

American Companies Are Getting Way Too Cozy With the National Security Agency

Newly released documents describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives.


October 23 • 12:00 PM

The Man Who’s Quantifying New York City

Noah Davis talks to the proprietor of I Quant NY. His methodology: a little something called “addition.”


October 23 • 11:02 AM

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.


October 23 • 10:00 AM

The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption

An FBI agent offered up confidential information about a political operative’s enemy in exchange for cash—and they both got caught. What were they thinking?


October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.


October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.


October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.


October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.


October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


Follow us


Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.